Investment

Books About Tech Startups: The Good, The Bad, And The Cheesy

5 winners and sinners from my two decades of reviewing books about Silicon Valley and beyond

A few things were missing from books about tech startups when I began reviewing them nearly two decades ago. Women, for instance. And villains.

Silicon Valley and other startups may have attracted people besides visionary tech bros back then. But until Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In hit stores in 2013, the books about their world tended to focus on stories of internet heroes with Y chromosomes.

That was then, and this is 2023, the year Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes reported to a federal prison in Texas and Elon Musk’s halo has transmuted into horns.

These changes have made for more interesting — and perhaps truthful — books about tech startups. But every year has had its winners and sinners. Here are five of memorably good, bad, or cheesy books about startups that I’ve reviewed over the years.

Activists protest Amazon’s polices in 2012 / Joe Piette on Wikimedia Commons CC

The Good

The book: Amazonia: Five Years At the Center of the Dot.Com Boom (New Press, 2004)
Author: James Marcus, journalist and former editor of Harper’s
Company under the microscope: Amazon
In 1996 the gifted critic James Marcus became employee №55 at Amazon, a member of an editorial team hired by Jeff Bezos to do the staff-written reviews that eventually gave way to customer reviews.

Marcus oversaw the website’s home page for a while and pitched in on tasks such as wrapping books during the Christmas rush. He also helped the customer service people answer email queries. They might come from someone who’d seen a book on television: “The one with the red cover. Can you tell me what it’s called?”

With something of the spirit of Michael Lewis in Liar’s Poker, Marcus recalls his experiences with wit and flair in an entertaining memoir that develops no grand themes or critiques of Amazon’s business…

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